by Marcus Harrison Green
Hundreds of community members joined military veterans on the eve of the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks to dig flower plots, saw plywood, and collect trash along Rainier Beach’s hidden trail ways. The beautification effort of the neighborhood’s South Fisher Place trail and Mapes Creek Walkway was part of the National Day of Service commemorating the lives lost from the horrific tragedy.
Saturday afternoon brought an influx of veterans and active-duty military personnel from around the Puget Sound to South Seattle courtesy of The Mission Continues, an organization connecting vets with community projects across the city.
“The highlight of the day is the amount of people. Everyone who’s out here is out here for the same reason and good things are happening to the community.” said Alicia Todd, an active-duty service member with the National Guard, who helped manage Saturday’s project.
In addition to bodies, the organization provided lumber to frame the South Fisher Place trail located just behind the Rainier Beach Safeway, a generator for electric saws and lunch for the volunteers, most decked out in blue t-shirts reading “The Mission Continues”.
Civilian volunteers, who worked alongside the service members, were rallied by those heading up the crime prevention initiative “Rainier Beach: A Beautiful Safe Place for Youth” (RB:BSPY). The beautification project was part of their ongoing mission of improving crime “hotspots” where youth are disproportionately affected by acts of violence.
Barb Biondo, the initiative’s point person and a veteran herself, was excited to see so many South Seattle-based veterans participating alongside community members.
“We have war veterans here who served in Iraq, Korea, and Vietnam who live in South Seattle meeting each other and engaging with the community for the first time. A 95-year-old veteran who fought in the Korean War saw the clean up was going on and came and asked how he could help,” said Biondo.
Biondo was also elated that the heavily used pedestrian pathways of the Mapes Creek Walkway and Fisher Trail were getting some long overdue attention. While both are property of the City of Seattle, they are a blight in the eyes of many due to a lack of adequate maintenance. Biondo sees the Saturday work party as a way for the community lend a hand in turning the walkways into the attractive and safe pedestrian corridors they were intended to be.
While adults worked with power saws and children ran around with yellow garbage bags picking up candy wrappers and beer bottles along Mapes Walkway which runs perpendicular to the Rainier Beach Safeway’s east side, connected Rainier Avenue with South Henderson Street, the purpose for the day was not far from everyone’s mind.
“Me and my family were obviously highly impacted by that day. In conjunction with my career, and every day of my life, I look back at how I can give back. How I can participate for those we lost,” said Brian Hendrix, a Navy Veteran who traveled from Edmonds with his daughter Sloane to participate in the cleanup.
Skyway resident Rochelle Tomokana, whose husband Jesse is an army veteran, brought her three children, along with three nieces and nephews to be a part of it.
“Being here today just makes me feel humbled. Just giving back and doing something for 9/11. I wasn’t in the service but it allows me to help out,” she said.
For most, though the act was local, it was the most appropriate tribute they could bestow.
“In a time of crisis and a time of need we should come out and help out the entire community. Today has to be about engaging deeper and broader. That should be the positive message coming out of 9/11. People can choose to commemorate in different ways, some choose to protest, some choose to man somewhere around the world with a rifle. We, and our veterans, want to make things better globally, and that starts locally.” said the sweat drenched Linh Thai, District Representative for Adam Smith, taking a short break from greeting the newest crop of volunteers that trickled in throughout the day.